5 Tips on How to Plant and Grow Peonies

The peonies’ season may be brief, but its intensity is well worth having as an integral part of your garden plan!  Peony plants, with proper planning, will offer a dazzling display of flower fireworks from mid-spring through the beginning of summer. 

A popular choice for gardeners for over a century, The American Peony registry lists over 6500 cultivars   From all these choices, there are three common types of peonies: tree peonies, herbaceous peonies and Itoh peonies.   The traditional colors are pink, white, rose, and red.  The tree and Itoh peonies have added different colors that include shades of coral, deep purple, mahogany and bright yellow

With a mythic history, peonies, the pink ones in particular, are seen as romantic and in many cultures a sign of good fortune.  They can also signify a happy marriage, honor, compassion, and even bashfulness!  Peonies serve as a gift for the twelfth wedding anniversary. 

 Since they are perennials, peonies can be a mainstay in your garden and exist comfortably in a garden bed or in a container.  Here are five quick tips for planting and caring for peonies that will have you enjoying blooms for years to come.

1. Deciding which type of Peony.

If you are starting right now and purchasing from your favorite online nursery at GreenwoodNursery.com, you will want to select container grown peonies.Your choice will depend when you want them to bloom and how much time you want to care for them.Chinese tree peonies bloom first in April – May.Herbaceous peonies or peony bushes will bloom in early May through June. Late blooms will come from Intersectional ‘Itoh’ hybrid peonies, which are combine characteristics of the herbaceous and tree peonies and will bloom in June.This hybrid was created by Dr. Toichi Itoh.

2. Grow Peonies in Pots or Beds – both prefer full sun

All three types of peonies can be grown in either pots or garden beds.  However, if you choose to put them in containers, they will need some extra care.  Plan on having substantial sized containers – at least 18” deep and equally as wide.  They will need adequate drainage, and the soil should be about 65% topsoil and 35% perlite.  Keep the soil moist but do not saturate. 

Given the size of the containers and with the added soil, the containers can be quite heavy.  If possible, add castors to the pots so they can be moved easily, especially if you want to take them inside during the winter.

For a garden bed, place the plant in the ground with plenty of compost.  Peonies in a garden require little work and have been known to last 100 years.  That’s a return on investment!

If you plant this spring, you should have modest expectations.  But if you’re dazzled by the color and ease, plant more again in the fall, and you will reap the benefits the next gardening season.

3. Peony Care and Maintenance

The peonies’ stems will not support the large blooms of the herbaceous peonies.To fully enjoy their delicate blooms, stake the peony stems.Peony rings can be purchased at your local gardening shop.However, bamboo stakes and string will serve equally as well.

While peonies have few pests, they may attract ants.However, there is no reason for concern.Peonies secrete nectar that attracts these insects.It was once believed that ants helped open the flowers.

4. Harvesting  Peonies

Peonies make great additions in a cut flower bouquet.Cut in the morning and leave at least two leaves on the stems because this will help next year’s blooms.The flowers can be cut in full bloom or just before it is ready to burst.

Fill the vase about 1/3 of the way with water.Add flower food.If you don’t, plan to change the water every few days.

5. End of year Peony Care

If you have a herbaceous peony, cut it down.Tree and Itoh peonies will shed their leaves but the woody stems should remain in tact.

If you’re pleased with the look and ease of care a peony offers, the best time to plant more is before the first hard frost.If your plants are mature, this would be a good time to divide them in groups with 3-5 eyes (buds).New plants should be planted by the first frost as well.This will allow roots to set.Whether divided or new, both sets of plants should have the eyes set upward about two inches below the soil for herbaceous peonies and a little deeper for the other two varieties.

You'll adore our selection of peony varieties avialable growing in containers.

For more visit the North Carolina State University on Peonies in the landscape.

Red Peonies in a vase